CAIRO — Dozens of bodies washed ashore on Libya’s western Mediterranean Sea coast on Tuesday, the latest tragedy to strike desperate migrants from Africa and elsewhere seeking refuge and jobs in Europe.
At least 74 bodies were pulled from a beach near the western city of Zawiya, according to Libya’s Red Crescent, which added that the dead had previously been on a boat. The agency tweeted photos showing rescue workers placing the victims in black-and-white body bags.
It was unclear how the deaths occurred, and there was no sign of a wrecked boat or vessel. But the incident bore the hallmarks of other maritime tragedies involving migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean on smuggler boats in recent years.
Last year saw a record number of drownings — more than 4,500 — involving migrants traveling on smuggling routes from Libya to Italy, according to a report by the European border management agency Frontex. The actual figure is probably higher because many deaths go unrecorded, the agency’s director, Fabrice Leggeri, said last week. In comparison, 2015 had 2,869 drownings, while there were 3,061 in 2014.
The agency expects the numbers to rise this year. Leggeri said that more and more smugglers are using poorly built smaller boats and packing them up with migrants to increase revenue. On average, the boats this year are carrying 160 migrants per vessel, while in previous years that average has been about 100.
In January, Frontex recorded 228 drowning deaths, the largest monthly toll in recent years.
Smugglers and migrants have taken advantage of the lawlessness and turmoil in Libya, beset by civil war since longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed during the 2011 revolution, part of the Arab Spring revolts that swept the region. Most migrants are escaping poverty, unemployment and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa and hoping to find a better life in Europe.